Warner Brother Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-Ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.
Back in February, there was a news item on various TV and cartoon oriented boards that a movie was in the works featuring the Banana Splits. For anybody under the age of 55, these were four live-action costumed characters who hosted a “Laugh-In”-type comedy and cartoon show on Saturday mornings, starting in 1968. Only there would be a twist: the Banana Splits movie would be a “made-for-TV slasher flick!”
This provoked the usual comment section outrage. Mostly along the lines of “How dare they do this to my cherished childhood memories!” Well, yeah, I liked the show too, when I was a kid. But like a lot of these people, I rarely gave a second thought to my “cherished childhood memory” over the intervening 50 years. Besides, it seemed like a waste of effort to put Bingo, Fleegle, et al, in a pedestrian slasher movie. Maybe it would have a twist that would turn the genre on its ear, like the reimagined “Flinstones” and other Hanna-Barbera comic books DC Comics put out a while back.
When I was offered a preview copy of the movie, I said “send it on,” hoping to find a surprising new twist on a couple of tired genres.
What I got was the same old slasher movie. I may have had my first clue when I found this was having its broadcast premiere, not on Cartoon Network or Boomerang, but on SYFY, purveyors of fresh fare like six “Sharknado” movies. Instead of a new re-imagining of an old kids’ show, it appears someone pitched an idea about kiddie show characters turned slashers, and the Splits were available cheap.
The story so far…
The movie’s setup is thus: “The Banana Splits” here been a kiddie show, on the air for 50 years. Drooper, Bingo, Fleegle and Snorky are accompanied by “Stevie” (Richard White). Like Sideshow Mel, he’s the target of seltzer, exploding mailboxes, and cream pies.
A young “Banana Splits” fan, Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), gets tickets to a taping of the show for his birthday. So his family, and a friend, drive to the “Taft Network” studios (a reference to Taft Broadcasting, a media group that owned Hanna-Barbera for several years). They, and the other audience members, are escorted by a studio page named Paige (Naledi Majola). That’s the other joke in this movie. A newly minted network Vice President (Daniel Fox) corners the show’s producer to tells her he’s cancelling the show after this episode is taped. He wants the studio space, and to sell the animatronic Splits to the network’s theme park.
So, the Banana Splits here are robots, built and maintained by a crazy inventor in the studio’s basement. When the taping is over, and the crew learns of the cancellation, things, of course go seriously wrong. Most of the audience has left (“or HAVE they?”), and Paige takes our young fan and his family backstage for a meet & greet with the Splits. Even after the studio crew gets the idea that something’s gone wrong, an older fan (Kiroshan Naidoo) and his girlfriend (Celina Martin) sneak off by themselves. They’re determined to livestream from the set. Like they’ve never seen a “Friday the 13th” movie in their lives.
The body count begins…
Having set up several jerk characters, the movie has a Banana Split kill each one in increasingly gory fashion. Some of the scenes, I have to think, may be too intense for its basic cable debut. Then they off a few characters who don’t “deserve” to get killed, according to horror movie rules. There is, at least, a twist on the “cut phone line” trope which takes cell phones into account.
Maybe it’s me, because I’m not a fan of slasher movies. But I could find no flash of wit. No suggestion that the producers wanted to do anything to upend the clichés of the genre. The family takes on the maniacal robot Splits, with mom (Dani Kind) doffing her jacket to fight in her tank top, like Linda Hamilton in Terminator.
Regrettably, the movie does not try to redeem itself, or to score points on its genre. The novelty of dropping Saturday morning TV characters into a horror film has no payoff. The cheapness of the entire production is exacerbated by its having been filmed in South Africa, presumably for tax credits.
The Banana Splits Movie is on Digital now, and on Blu-Ray and DVD August 27, 2019. Also available to watch below.